Each time I posted pictures of my children on Facebook, I felt joy knowing my family members and friends could see my boys' smiling faces.
I put my privacy settings on the highest settings, feeling secure that I could safely post pictures of my children and know they would not meet stranger's eyes. I gasped in shock when I came across this quote while reading Raffi Cavoukian's new book Lightweb Darkweb, on the need for social media reform:
"Anything you post online, no matter what your privacy settings, is public, it's permanent and it's searchable by anyone." --Constable Darren Laur of Victoria, BC (@crimefighterguy)
I later discovered something called "data-mining," which was described in Raffi's book, and the story of a blogger finding her picture on a billboard in Czechoslovakia. Facebook is passing along our information and photographs to corporations. It might be hard for an individual to find our data, but it is easy for companies who pay Facebook for access to this information.
We have evidence that pictures and posts can be used against people in the form of cyberbullying, predatory behaviour, and malicious intent. I realized how grateful I was that when I was a teacher, my students didn't have access to any photos of myself when I was a child—or more importantly, a teenager and young adult who made LOTS of mistakes. I thought, thank God all my photos during those years are inside photo albums, tucked away in a closet.
After reading Raffi's eye-opening book, I really thought long and hard about the effects of putting information about my children on social media and in my writing. With my psychotherapist hat on, I realized my children could really be upset with me once they are able to search and read the internet on their own. As a result, I have decided to have strong boundaries about what I will post about my children online (I will list those further down).
I had the good fortune to speak with Raffi on Skype (yes, I did make banana-phone jokes about that) and he said, "Social media was not invented for children. If you are on any social media application for free, be aware that the company is passing along your personal information to gain income. Children don't know this, and most adults do not either." We went on to have a lovely conversation where I could hear his passion for the wellbeing of children, and how desperately we need formal safeguards to be in place before more children are harmed or commit suicide.
I am going to share the boundaries I suggest and use for keeping children's online information safe, and then how to coach our children to share their own information safely.
Use stock photos in your blog posts/articles.
The families in those photos have made a conscious decision to be compensated for the photo, and have controlled which ones are out there.
Post a single picture of your children (don't tag anyone in those photos) in social media and then remove it a few days later.
Facial-recognition technology is advancing and large stores of data of your children's faces can be used by companies. Just put one or two pictures up at a time, and then take it down after your aunties have seen it.
Write about YOUR perspective, not your child's behaviour.
After each post you write about the maddening things that happen as a parent (I know there can be many!), consider what your child will say if he/ she reads this as an adult. AND consider what your child would say if his/ her patient, student, constituent said, "Oh, hey, I did a search on you and found a funny article your mom posted about the time you hit the mall Santa. That's hilarious! The picture was even funnier!!! hahaha!"
If you are continually sharing things about your child's life, you are removing their choice to live in anonymity.
Share your personal journey as a parent, be graphic, but talk about your feelings and use very general terms to link it to your child's actions.
Do not use your child's full name in public posts.
A writer colleague told me of a time she used her child's name in her articles, and a stranger approached her daughter after recognizing her in article photos, addressing the child by name. We aren't going to panic and scream "stranger danger" but having people we don't know able to recognize our children by photos and their name is not in the best interest of safety.
Now let's move on to boundaries to help children be safe in social media as they grow older:
Do not introduce babies or young children to mobile devices.
We don't need to use moderation here — kids will have their whole lives to learn how to use and benefit from technology. This boundary is in order to prevent the ADHD propensity and creativity diminishment we know can happen with screen-time and young children, but also to let children have time to know what living without screens is like. Children need space to grow in the natural world and their own minds first.
Teach your children how to use social media considerately and safely.
Instruct your child about sharing photos safely, and how to post information that won't come back to haunt them. Talk about making good decisions and being a good tech-buddy, i.e., not posting embarrassing things about their friends.
Make a family tech schedule. (or have a family tech policy)
Have a written schedule where the whole family knows when they can and cannot use their technology. Include moderate time intervals (don't let your child get caught in a four-hour video game tornado) and the penalties if they don't adhere to that schedule.
Turn all mobile devices and internet connections off at night. Remove all devices from bedrooms.
Kids are literally losing sleep over their mobile devices. I posted more about that here.
Have family time where everyone is unplugged.
Get your children used to going periods of time without a device nearby.
I know this is a small amount of information covering a big topic. If you would like to learn more, I recommend reading Raffis' book—there is a good appendix section with specific advice to parents from a number of sources. Also, I invite you over to my Facebook page where I post lots of free parenting information and resources. There is also more information to protect our kids from cyberbullying in my article in the October 2013 edition of Walmart Live Better Magazine, which is available for free in their stores. The article is called, "You can't get me."
Let's work together to make sure the internet is a fun a helpful thing for our children—not a place where they are inadvertently put in harm's way.
Photo: Flickr Creative Commons Berkhamsted School Library